That time of year is upon us. To most of us it is a familiar feeling – a slight dread (or at least apprehension) about writing a personal statement. Nearly everyone who has previously written one has been there at some point. This feeling is not unfounded – it is difficult and perhaps even nerve-wracking to craft a short essay which is a cohesive summary of your life experience to date, one that succinctly states why you are fit to perform a certain role. This is certainly no easy task.
The medical school personal statement is no exception. But fear not: I would posit that with some thoughtful preparation and an organized approach, the medical school personal statement can be a very manageable task. Perhaps it can even become enjoyable, producing something you are proud of which you know will strengthen your application.
We, at Med School Insiders, can help you achieve such a reality. Here are our key steps to crafting a stellar personal statement.
1 | Read Examples of Real Personal Statements
A good way to start any task is to have a clear idea of what your goal or endpoint might look like. Inspiration and direction may come from reading a stellar personal statement. It is worthwhile to have a roadmap based on strong past personal statements.
Now every statement is different, as each individual is unique, and there is no cookie-cutter approach that will be successful for all. So do not read statements in order to copy, but rather in order to understand themes, concepts, and strategies that might be successful.
If you have a relationship with anyone who has matriculated to medical school, consider asking if they may be willing to share their statement with you as an example. Med School Insiders has also compiled a database of prior medical school personal statements which successfully vaulted the writer to medical school acceptance. This is a great place to start.
2 | Reflect on Past Experiences
While some might call this brainstorming, I prefer to call it reflecting. This is because you already have all the answers to the test – you just need to access and process them. There is no need to concoct anything which has not actually occurred. You must only reflect on your past experiences.
Start by thinking about why it is you truly want to be a doctor. Now, to be honest, for most people many of the same reasons will arise: an intellectual interest in medicine, a desire to tangibly help people, an enjoyment of interpersonal interaction afforded by patient care. If this is also the case for you, that is OK. What you need to do is to choose which of those reasons are most important to you. This will then allow you to select experiences which helped you realize those values.
Next, consider what traits you possess which make you an outstanding candidate and future physician. These traits will be unique to each individual but should tie into the values and components of medicine which interest you, discussed in the paragraph above. These will help you create your body paragraphs.
3 | Choose Which Experiences/Traits to Highlight
As alluded to prior, you should identify 3-4 personal strengths which you want to outline. You will then illustrate them using experiences you had in your premedical years which helped you build those strengths. This will make up the body of your personal statement.
It is important to choose wisely. This is a personal decision which everyone will need to come to on their own. Understand that writing these body paragraphs may not be easy. It may take several edits or attempts and require writing different body paragraphs based on different strengths/experiences.
Consider choosing experiences that correlate to some of the following categories, which I have found to be commonly seen in personal statements. This is by no means an exhaustive list; creativity is encouraged!
Compassion/passion for patient interaction
Intellectual curiosity for medicine (academics, research, etc.)
Dedication and discipline (whether it be to medicine or any other pursuit)
Perseverance over adversity
4 | Outline Before Writing
Once you have reflected on the experiences and traits which will make up your statement, you must create an outline to structure your approach. Generally, personal statements will follow a structure similar to the following outline. Again, your statement can certainly deviate from this.
Introduction/hook – uses a strong hook which is generally an anecdote or reflection to catch the reader’s attention
Conclusion – generally summarizes, ties back to the introductory hook/theme, and helps the reader look towards the future.
5 | Weave a Cohesive Story
It is crucial for a personal statement to read as a cohesive entity with a start and finish, rather than a random list of accomplishments. You do not want it to read like a resume, as this will not provide the personal touch necessary for a strong statement.
In order to do so, your introductory paragraph and hook should introduce some sort of theme, a concept which is central to your desire to be a physician. Each paragraph thereafter will illustrate an experience that helped you build tools that prepare you to realize the goals you have set forth. In the conclusion, it can be very effective to tie back to your introductory story elegantly, while being sure not to repeat it. This can set up a strong concluding statement which summarizes your goals and values. By tying back to the introduction, you can achieve a sense of cohesion in your personal statement, allowing it to read like a story from start to finish.
6 | Be Stringent About Spelling and Grammar
This is self-explanatory and obvious, but still crucial. Mistakes of either spelling or grammar denote carelessness and will be automatic red flags. Do not take any chances. Use spell check functions in your word processor. If grammatical rules are something you struggle with, consider using a grammar checking service of which there are multiple online. Finally, have others read your statement carefully. A second set of eyes will frequently uncover errors to which you were blind.
7 | Get Feedback
Simpy put, lots of feedback is crucial. Be sure to have multiple trustworthy people read your statement. Perhaps even more importantly, seek the advice of individuals who are experienced with the process. Professors, research mentors, and recent medical school applicants are all great resources. If you would like extra help, consider enlisting more formal assistance from a personal statement editing service. Med School Insiders has an outstanding medical school personal statement editing system, with experienced physicians using a systematic yet personalized approach to ensure your success. Be sure to check out what we have to offer.
8 | Be Yourself
At the end of the day, one of the most important things when writing a medical school personal statement is to be honest. Make sure you are true to yourself. Do not exaggerate or embellish, and certainly do not concoct experiences. This will become apparent at some point in the application process and will not serve you well.
The best personal statements reflect a genuine and honest answer to the question: “Why do you want to become a doctor and why are you a qualified candidate to do so?” Stay true to yourself and it will show, both in your personal statement and on your interviews when that time comes.
With these steps in mind, you will be well on your way to creating an outstanding medical school personal statement. Do not hesitate to reach out to the Med School Insiders team if you are considering assistance with the process and would like more information on our services.
Good luck to you all!